US election campaign: Dangerous mediocrity: Surprise candidate could accidentally throw Biden out of the White House

Donald Trump vs.

US election campaign: Dangerous mediocrity: Surprise candidate could accidentally throw Biden out of the White House

Donald Trump vs. Joe Biden – the signs point to revenge. One is almost competitive, the other has no alternative. The 2024 US presidential election looks set to be terribly close – again. So close that in the end, of all things, a movement that supposedly fights against political extremes could tip the scales.

Should the silverbacks duel again in the coming year, the centrist movement "No Labels" wants to offer a third choice alongside left and right. That a moderate candidate would make it into the White House without either party behind him is daydreaming. Nevertheless, mediocrity could be dangerous - especially for the Democrats.

"Do you feel politically homeless?" the movement asks on its website. If so, then the search should finally end here. No labels, loosely translated that means: without a stamp, neither arch-conservative nor left-liberal, a political mythical creature in the USA in the year 2023. They have been fighting extremes since "2009", it says. The wind blows neither from the left nor from the right, but from the golden mean. At least that's the idea.

According to the agenda, the organization is calling on Washington, for example, to reduce health care costs, to refuse entry to undocumented migrants, to uphold gun rights but to regulate them - a colorful political potpourri. How the group envisions this "common sense" strategy (as the manifesto calls it) in practice is not always clear. Divisive issues such as abortion leave little room for compromise.

No Labels was created in 2010. At that time, dozens of ultra-conservative Republicans from the so-called Tea Party movement moved into the House of Representatives to torpedo every single bill proposed by President Barack Obama. They were against in order to be against. The No Labels founders were then composed of moderates from both parties. They were looking for the lost political center. In the larger of the two US chambers, no-label MPs from both camps formed the "Problem Solvers Caucus". This "problem-solvers' association" should put willingness to compromise above ideology, find ways out where extremes failed. The founding myth goes something like this.

The movement is now spearheaded by executive director Nancy Jacobson, a former finance chair of the Democratic National Committee. The chairs are shared by former Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman, civil rights activist Benjamin Chavis and former Republican Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.

No Labels may have started with the lofty goal of building a political bridge, but it is subject to the same opaque constraints as any political actor. And politics costs money. A report by Mother Jones magazine lists 36 donors - well-wishers who have given hundreds of thousands, even millions, of dollars left and right. The group does not reveal who donates how much – because they don’t have to. Because on paper, No Labels is not a party, but a non-partisan movement.

Now, for the first time, this movement wants to step out of the shadows and actively enter the race for the White House.

"Washington only works for Washington. We are working to change that," claims No Labels. That actually sounds like the right-wing populist classic, according to which "those up there" are letting the American people down. But No Labels goes one step further: The Americans are tired of both Biden and Trump - they just lack the alternative. This is evidenced by a survey commissioned by the movement.

In practice, the group not only recognizes a problem, it also offers the prospect of a solution: a neutral candidate, a "single candidate," is supposed to bridge the gap between the opposing camps and reconcile the electorate. No Labels describes the approach as an "insurance policy".

However, in order for the centrists to be able to dream of the big hit, they first have to appear on the radar. In addition, they strive to get on the ballot in all 50 states - so far they have made it in four. The group is to send 400 people across the country in search of the necessary signatures.

But one thing should be clear: No Label itself wants to officially run an election campaign, nor does it want to finance it. It's just a matter of getting a third party candidate on the ballot. Chief strategist Ryan Clancy compares this to NASA's work: "We're building the launch pad," he says. "When a candidate is nominated, he has to build the rocket to get into the White House." The ".org" approach is a powerful shield. With good reason: as an NGO, the group is not subject to the official rules of election campaign financing and does not have to disclose its donors.

The question remains as to who No Labels could build the "launch pad" for. Among other things, the non-party Senator Kyrsten Sinema, the co-chairman Larry Hogan - or Joe Manchin. The West Virginia senator made headlines last week when No Labels announced he would be a guest star at a group-sponsored event in New Hampshire to launch the 60-page new policy statement. All of a sudden, the rumor mill was churning. The location, the Saint Anselm College's Institute, has a symbolic character: The first Republican primary will take place here in six months.

Manchin is the most likely choice not only because he is a remarkably conservative Democrat and old enough at 75. He was also the co-chair of the group. The NGO wants to commit to Manchin by March at the latest. Or to someone else. Or to nobody. One will back down "if the polls indicate that we would be the spoilsport for either party," promised no-labels boss Nancy Jacobson.

And Manchin himself? That excludes nothing. However, speculation about a joint race with Jon Huntsman, the former Republican governor of Utah, is premature. "If I compete, then I will win," he said on Monday in the well-filled hall in New Hampshire. If he is actually serious, he would at least compete with Donald Trump in terms of self-confidence.

Presumably Manchin's real concern is not getting promoted, but keeping his current job. Because in 2024, the Americans will not only elect a new, old president, they will also appoint senators in eleven states. And in his native West Virginia, which Manchin currently represents in Washington, it's not a good time to be a Democrat. With a bid for the White House under a neutral flag, Manchin is likely to hope for the goodwill of conservative voters.

But honestly, does it even matter if someone raises their hand in the shadow of the titans Biden and Trump? There's a good reason why every presidential election since the electorate has been a duel at most. For the past 150 years or so, every US head of state has been a Democrat or Republican. The only man who made it to the top without any party was a certain George Washington.

So much is oracular: 2024 will not come as a surprise in this respect. And yet it is important whether someone else raises their hand. Because no matter how small its shadow is: The untagged candidate could trip one of the titans.

Ironically, when No Labels announced earlier this year that they might be running their own candidate, members were divided. The Democrats in the problem-solving clique complained that in the end that would only play into Trump's hands. Which they are probably not entirely wrong about. Because a no-labels candidate would inevitably be fishing among moderates and non-voters — votes Biden is eyeing. Should the 2024 race be as close as it was four years ago – and it can be assumed that it will be – Biden would need every vote in the crucial swing states. "To win a national election, Democrats have to win over three out of five moderate voters," Jim Kessler, vice president of the think tank Third Way, told Vox magazine.

The thought of a larger range of candidates not only triggers abdominal pain left of center. In response to Monday's event, prominent Democrats and Republicans announced they would form a new group called Citizens to Save Our Republic just to fight No Labels. William Galston, a researcher at the renowned Brookings Institute and No Labels co-founder, even turned his back on "his" movement when the group was openly considering a candidate.

Of course, so much headwind could not be ignored. On May 1, co-chairs Lieberman and Chavis released a joint statement. The headline: "Donald Trump should never be president again."

What should and what will be, these are two pairs of shoes. Or three.

Quellen: "New Yorker"; "Washington Post"; "Politico"; "Vox"; "New York Times"; "Mother Jones"